A.O. Smith decision ends nearly 140-year manufacturing legacy

Though not gone, the heritage of the Beatty Bros. is much diminished with the announcement that manufacturing operations will cease later this year at the A.O. Smith factory, also formerly known as GSW Limited.

Beatty Brothers Limited was established in Fergus in 1874 by George and Matthew Beatty.

In its earliest years the company was primarily a family business involved in the manufacture of farm equipment.

At the Toronto Industrial Exhibition in 1879, the company was awarded a bronze medal for engineering excellence.

During the same period the Beatty brothers also purchased the Grindley farm implement factory with water power on the Grand River. It manufactured reapers, mowers, straw cutters, land rollers, single and gang plows, and even stoves and cast-iron kitchen utensils.

From the turn of the century to 1961, the company continued to expand.

Other companies were purchased: the James Provan Company of Oshawa, Whitman and Barnes of St. Catharines, Cameron and Dunn of Strathroy, Tolton Brothers of Guelph, Emerson and Campbell of Tweed, Wortman and Ward of London, etc.

By 1928 the Beatty product line spanned more than 600 items. Factories in Fergus and London, Ontario employed 600 people, and a further 800 people were employed in Great Britain.

There were branches and stores across Canada and by 1939 there were also stores in Australia and New Zealand.

During the Second World War, GSW manufactured weapon parts and other war materials.

In May 1961 the Beatty family sold their shares to Ralph M. Barford, Robert A. Stevens, and George Gardiner.  In 1969 the company amalgamated with General Steel Wares to form GSW Limited.

From the period 1962 to 1976, a number of GSW’s facilities were closed, with product lines narrowed to achieve economies of scale and capitalize on freer trade with the United States.

A.O. Smith purchased General Steel Wares in 2006 for $340 million U.S. in cash. GSW came into being in 1927, an amalgamation of five sheet metal manufacturing companies, including McClary Manufacturing, Thomas Davidson Manufacturing, and E.T. Wright and Co.

A.O. Smith, headquartered in Milwaukee, is one of the largest water heating equipment makers in the world, with operations in the U.S., Mexico, Europe, India and China, and sales and distribution in more than 60 countries.

It earned $162.6 million in 2012 on $1.94 billion in sales.